Weaving On My Table Loom

March 28, 2010

I finished my first project on the table loom about a week ago.  It was nothing like weaving on my Bergman.

With the table loom, it made more sense to set the shuttle down between picks than it did to swing the heavy beater and work all the levers with only one hand.  I would throw the shuttle, catch it, and set it on the breast beam while I changed the shed.  I did develop a sort of rhythm for this, but it was all fermatas and full-measure rests!

The loom is too tall to use sitting down, so I wove standing, which is probably better for me anyway.  No strain except from threading (how I missed the Bergman’s removable breast beam!) and from staying on my feet for too long.  Oh.  And my hands got a little achy from the leavers, which require some effort to move.

Why is that?  My 60% cotton / 40% linen warp was part of the problem.  If I kept it tight enough to support the shuttle, I could barely raise the shafts.  If I left it loose enough to raise the shafts easily, the floor of the shed was too loose to take the shuttle very well.  This wasn’t a fault of my loom in particular, it was just how how linen would behave on any short jack loom with ratcheting beams.

The question soon came to me: why are there no sinking shed table looms?  With a jack loom you make the shed by pulling some threads out of the way while leaving others in place.  The ones you’re pulling away from the resting warp will have the greatest tension.  Why not put those higher tension threads on the bottom of the shed, where you need them to support your shuttle?

Then I got Dot’s comment on my last post and had a whole lot more to think about.  Dot explained that one of her table looms was actually designed to have the resting warp angle down through the heddle eyes.  It was a way of making sheds big enough to admit the shuttle on what otherwise would have been too shallow a loom for any but the smallest of sheds.  This sent me to the Mountain Looms website with a terrible suspicion.  Mountain Looms are no longer in production, but you can still look at the pictures, and they are designed the very same way!

I supported the the shafts of my homemade loom on 2 1/8″ blocks to raise the heddle eyes to the same height as the breast and back beams.  At the time I believed I was correcting a crazy mistake of the carpenter, who used a Mountain loom as a model.

Well, he did make a lot of mistakes, but the shaft-height issue is more complicated than I thought.  My loom isn’t particularly shallow for a table loom, and I am still getting quite  spacious sheds after my modification.  The original Mountain looms never left the heddle eyes more than 2 inches lower than the breast and back beams, like mine did.  Before I put blocks under the shafts, this loom was opening a 3 or 4 inch shed, which is larger than anyone needs and which would have caused even more tension discrepancies.  I couldn’t have left it as I found it.  So that’s okay.

But what if the home carpenter hadn’t botched the measurements for the lifting mechanism so badly?  I might have been able to treat this as a a sinking shed loom.  Instead of lifting the shafts up from a resting position on blocks, I could have hung them (if I was very clever) so that the warp was at rest when the shafts were in the up position, and the sheds were formed by releasing the levers so that the shafts fell back down to the bottom of the loom.

This could work as long as the shafts were heavy enough to pull down the threads of the tensioned warp (I think they probably are); but it would be a weird design, because it would depend on having terribly heavy shafts!

Frankly, as someone who likes to weave with fine woolen thread, I don’t even think the original Mountain Loom design is that great.  I can’t like the stress it puts on the warp.  Dot pointed out that there is more abrasion with Texsolv than with smooth metal heddles, but it still rubs me wrong (pun intended) to have to advance the warp under friction.

So far my little researches and thought experiments have all pointed to the same thing–which is that table looms are a compromise.  You already knew that, didn’t you?  Their direct tie-up and hand-operated lift mechanism makes them ideal for weaving small quantities of complex-patterned cloth.  Nobody has ever claimed that they are the best kind of loom for anything else.

The verdict: a table loom is no replacement for a countermarche, but it’s a good loom for right now–maybe the next 4 months.  Despite it’s absurd girth and general lack of refinement, weaving on it was a relief!  I was so surprised what a relief it could be just to put a warp on a loom and weave without the specter of pain, further repetitive strain injury, and the question of whether or not I might have to get rid of my loom hanging over my head. Once my SI joints learned how to act up, putting a warp on the Bergman was like embarking on a dangerous, difficult, possibly never-to-be-completed journey–crossing the Alps on foot, perhaps.  To escape the Nazis.  The worry and the prospect of physical pain were a bigger part of the ordeal than I’d realized.

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8 Responses to “Weaving On My Table Loom”

  1. Louisa Says:

    So glad you’re able to weave again. Even if on a not-so-perfect table loom!

  2. Kimmen Says:

    I’ve been following your story with interest, as I have very similar issues. Degenerative arthritis, back and hip problems, etc. Physical therapy has helped a great deal, but I sadly let my Schacht floor loom go and I sold my Mountain table loom, which I really did like. It was a great loom. But it didn’t fold, and I have moved to a much smaller place and didn’t have room for it. I kept my small Harrisville floor loom that is very easy to treadle, and a Structo table loom for now. Good luck and I hope you can continue to weave without pain.
    Kimmen

    • trapunto Says:

      Are you enjoying the structo? I’m hearing more about them now than I used to. I wondered if anyone who was familiar with Mountain Looms would find this post. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Dot Says:

    Good to find out where you are up to, and your further thoughts on this loom. I agree with your conclusion, my table loom is fun, but my first love is the countermarche floor loom. There are no compromises in the design.

    I don’t think I’ll bother to try linen on my table loom, it prefers some slack in the warp, same as you have found. However, that’s an attractive cloth photographed on your loom and I’m sure you’ll find some other interesting small loom projects, things you might not weave on the Bergman?

  4. trapunto Says:

    Nice to hear from you, Dot.
    Yes, I *have* found some small loom projects. I’m threading one now: a short striped warp to use some partial cones of different colors. It seemed like a waste to warp up the countermarche for just a couple yards of something, but I don’t feel the same resistance when I tell myself it’s “just the table loom.” Though in fact, the loom waste isn’t any greater on the Bergman…

  5. Leslie Says:

    Hi – I’m a new weaver, turned to the loom-side on account of carpal tunnel syndrome after too much knitting with copper wire (!). I was wondering what “pattern” this blue and white project is; I’m ignorant, but guessing “Ms and Os” … can I try it with 4 harnesses? Thanks for any assistance you can muster – Leslie


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